been so preoccupied this past week in Wadadli, scrambling
to track down strangers or penetrating the familiar wall
of protocol and prevarication that surrounds public servants,
that it wasnt until last night the realisation dawned
that Antigua is a unique Creole hub.
I was sitting on a bench with my partner, Moti, outside
a Dominican bodega, sucking Presidente beer, listening
to bachata and merengue on the radio, against a background
of Spanish conversation. On the streets of St Johns,
whether in the upscale restored Redcliffe or Heritage
Quay waterfront or on funky Market Street, where the Syrian
shopkeepers sit on the street smoking in their plastic
chairs, in front of stores crammed with flyblown fading
goods, deep Jamaican Creole mixes with Antiguan Creole.
On Sunday at a christening party in Bolands, I found myself
in a Haitian Kreyol exchange with Maura, a Dominican or
Santo Domingan as theyre known here (to distinguish
them from citizens of the Commonwealth of Dominica), whose
family lives close enough to the Haitian border in the
Dominican Republic to have picked up the Kreyol of the
sugar workers whove been crossing the border to
harvest for centuries.
When I visited the Culture Development office in St Johns,
the young man who received me turned out to be from Sangre
Grande. Im sure with more time Id be able
to pick out the accents of Montserratians and Grenadians.
Because of its central position in the Lesser Antilles
chain, Antigua is within jump-off distance from Montserrat,
Guadeloupe, St Kitts and Nevis, St Maarten, Saba, St Barts
and a short plane ride from the Virgin Islands, Puerto
Rico and Hispaniola.
With its open-door immigration policy, following independence
in 1981, theres an unofficial estimate that nearly
40 per cent of the total population of 100,000 comprises
The Montserratians have always had a close relationship
with the island that floats just across the water from
them. Officers in the colonial Leewards Island Police
Force were posted here and many Montserratians came to
work on the construction of American army and naval bases
during the second World War. After the Soufriere volcano
eruption of 1995, a new wave of Montserratians arrived,
many en route for the UK.
Antiguas relationship with the Dominican Republic
is equally close. In the 1940s and 50s Antiguans
suffering from the depressed economy at home went to the
Dominican Republic to work on the sugar plantations. Some
remained after harvest time, married local women and settled.
Antiguan names like Joseph, Anthony, Mingo, Spencer, Hughes
and Jarvis are now common in the Dominican Republic.